The publisher of Julian Assange’s unofficial autobiography has said the WikiLeaks founder has no “legal or moral” right to criticise them for releasing the book against his wishes.
Assange claims Edinburgh-based publisher Canongate was “screwing people over to make a buck” and that the release was a “breach of confidence, a breach of contract”.
But Canongate’s Nick Davies - no relation to the Guardian journalist - told the Huffington Post UK that Assange’s statement, released on the WikiLeaks website on Thursday, was riddled with inaccuracies and “a minsinterpretation of the sequence of events”.
“We have strong legal and moral grounds in terms of our publishing ... we had a very clear set of bullet points in that contract as to what should be in the book.
“He gave all this material willingly to his ghost writer [Andrew O’Hagan]. I don't think Julian has anything to fear from this book. I think he should be embracing it and I think he should be very grateful to the ghost writer for helping him."
The argument has been raging since March 2011, when Assange told Canongate he had “major problems” with the first draft, written by O’Hagan, which forms the basis for the book released on Thursday.
“He was very vague and he kind of hit the breaks, and really slowed down the writing and production. We tired different ways to kick start it, we took the ghost writer off the project, we sent him away to edit, re-write, to add some extra material,” Davies said.
“He said he'd lost the electronic version of the manuscript. It was a little like the dog had eaten his homework. “
Assange attempted to back out of the deal in June 2011, saying “all memoir is prostitution,” according to Canongate. The publishers “reluctantly agreed” - if Assange repaid the advance. After it become clear he could not do that, Canongate decided to publish the autobiography at the beginning of September.
The 40-year-old website founder says he cannot repay the money because his former solicitor - to whom the advance was paid, has refused to release it over a legal fees dispute.
But Davies says: "We did pause. We gave Julian a number of opportunities to come back ... Right up until two weeks ago we were still giving Julian another opportunity. We gave him a week to give us something on paper [to halt the publishing]. That's when we wrote to him.”
Davies acknowledged the “delicious irony” of the situation - and said Assange could even make money from the book.
"In theory if the book is an enormous success then yes he would earn some royalities from this. But the book will need to do very, very well before he sees a penny. It's too early to say that it's going to be a success. We'll know more then.”
And in response to Assange’s statement where he said the book was "entirely uncorrected or fact-checked by me”, Davies said the book had been heavily legalled.
“The entire book was to be heavily modified, extended and revised, in particular, to take into account the privacy of the individuals mentioned in the book."